Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

2015 #81
Colin Trevorrow | 82 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

WANTED. Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

Safety Not GuaranteedThe debut feature from the director of all-conquering box office behemoth Jurassic World, Safety Not Guaranteed is a small-scale indie comedy that may or may not have a sci-fi twist. Inspired by a real newspaper ad (actually written by a bored editor), this fictional version sees three journalists from a Seattle magazine tracking down the guy who placed the ad in order to find out the true story behind it.

Despite the unique-sounding premise, much of the film plays as a pretty standard indie romantic-comedy-drama. You’ve got Aubrey Plaza as the girl who never quite fit in; Mark Duplass as a geeky loner with a heart of gold who (spoilers!) she falls for; Jake Johnson as a thirtysomething returning to his small hometown after years in the big city to reconnect with a lost love… If it’s beginning to sound like a checklist of indie plot points then, well, it’s not that bad — this isn’t Indie Movie. While none of the story threads unfold with as much uniqueness as the initial set-up promises, and do occasionally nudge towards thumb-twiddling familiarity, they’re not so rote as to be a total write off. Towards the end, it’s even managed to build up enough steam to offer an effective and somewhat affecting final act.

Trevorrow’s direction is solid. There’s nothing wrong with it, but equally I saw little to mark it out from any other low-budget indie dramedy. I don’t see what here particularly earnt him the instantaneous fast-track move to mega-budget blockbuster-making — directors who previously made that leap at least had the courtesy to go via a mid-budget feature or two following their dirt-cheap debut. Not a DeloreanMaybe I’m missing something, I don’t know, but where other directors currently making a similar transition (Gareth Edwards, Josh Trank, Duncan Jones) showed some signs of a reason for the upgrade in their debut and/or sophomore features, I can’t fathom what singled Trevorrow out. He seems to have done alright with it though, so never mind.

Safety Not Guaranteed has enough tweaks to the expected format that fans of the genre will lap it up (as evidenced by any online comment section you choose to check out), and I guess casual viewers who are predisposed to its particular set of traits will like it more than they like other examples of the same; but, the closing moments aside, I don’t think it’s anything like as unique as some people seem to think it is.

3 out of 5

Safety Not Guaranteed is on Film4 tonight at 12:10am.

Always (1989)

2014 #92
Steven Spielberg | 117 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English | PG / PG

AlwaysReleased the same year as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and followed by Hook, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in his filmography, Steven Spielberg’s remake of 1943 fantasy drama A Guy Named Joe is sandwiched between several all-time classics (and Hook), which probably explains why it’s been widely overlooked and, consequently, underrated.

Switching WW2 bombers for ’80s aerial firefighters, cocky pilot Pete Sandich (Richard Dreyfuss) is killed in the line of duty, leaving behind girlfriend Dorinda Durston (Holly Hunter, with a character name retained from the ’40s). Greeted in the afterlife by an angelic Audrey Hepburn (in her final role), Pete is sent back to Earth to be a spiritual guide to trainee pilot Ted (Brad Johnson). But when Ted runs into Dorinda, and romantic feelings begin to blossom between them, Pete has to decide if he can let go.

There’s a “something for everyone” feel to parts of Always: a soppy romantic storyline, a fantasy twist, hefty doses of humour, and some thrilling action sequences in the firefighting. There’s some wonderful aerial photography and special effects — not what the film’s about, but they’re excellent nonetheless. I guess that’s what you get when a director and crew who specialise in effects-filled blockbusters make a fantasy rom-com. Of course, Spielberg’s renowned sentimentality means he’s equally well suited to a sweet romantic movie. Three's a crowdEven with the undercurrents of grief and the difficulties of moving on, this is fundamentally a light, amiable romance.

An enjoyable little movie, Always was never destined to sit among the highlights of a career as exceptional as Spielberg’s. Nonetheless, it’s a pleasant aside from both his grander and heavier works.

4 out of 5

Always is on ITV tonight at 11:30pm.

In Your Eyes (2014)

2014 #42
Brin Hill | 106 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English

In Your EyesPerhaps most discussed for the way it was released — at the same time as the film’s festival premiere, writer-producer Joss Whedon made it available to rent online — In Your Eyes is worthy of note on its own merits as a movie, too.

A romance with a fantasy spin, it sees minor criminal Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) and bored well-to-do housewife Rebecca (Zoe Kazan) discover they can see through each other’s eyes and hear each other’s voice. They live very different lives far apart in the US, but nonetheless are both disaffected and lonely, and through their weird connection strike up a firm bond. Of course, something has to go wrong…

Anyone expecting a heavy fantasy flick from the creator of Buffy and the director of The Avengers will be sorely disappointed by what they find here. Rather than being the film’s subject, the fantasy element is an unusual way in to a relationship, as well as a setup for some amusing ‘set pieces’ (for want of a better word). I don’t believe the phenomenon that connects the two leads is ever explained, or even investigated. The focus instead lies on the effects it has on the characters.

Those are twofold: one, it’s about their burgeoning relationship. That clearly has romantic connotations, though she’s already married, to a high-flying (but controlling) doctor. In her eyesSecondly, their emotional connection means they begin to spend a lot of time in each other’s heads, distancing themselves from the world and, when they begin to be overheard talking to each other — or, as everyone else sees it, talking to themselves — people begin to get suspicious. And when you’ve got a controlling doctor for a husband, who knows about your history of mental health issues… well…

At times In Your Eyes is quite gentle. It’s primarily a series of conversations, wherein two people come to know and like each other. It does offer slices of humour, excitement and emotion, particularly in the aforementioned ‘set pieces’, but these are sprinkled or built up to, rather than barraged at you with an incessant need for your attention. Some won’t warm to this gradual unfurling of character and events, but if you’re prepared for that then I think there’s much to like. The leads are attractively played, quickly becoming people you want to spend time with and care about. The affection that’s carefully grown for them during the film pays dividends when it reaches the Big Climax.

Talking of climaxes, there’s also one of the more uncommon ‘sex’ scenes you’re ever likely to see. Not that anyone after titillation should be seeking it out, but Whedon is ever-excellent at carrying a concept through to its various logical conclusions.

In his eyesA character-driven romance that will likely bore some, In Your Eyes weaved a spell on me. It’s beautifully, simply directed by Brin Hill, the focus lying heavily on the characters and performances of Stahl-David and Kazan. If you warm to them — and I think many will — then they’re a pleasure to spend time with, and you become invested in where events will take them. More magical realist than hard fantasy, this isn’t one for serious genre fans. Romantics, however, may fall in love.

5 out of 5

In Your Eyes is still available to rent and buy digitally from Vimeo.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2014. Read more here.

Inside-Out (1999)

2008 #66a
Tom & Charles Guard | 7 mins | DVD | 12

This charming little short stars Simon McBurney as a hapless market researcher on a busy London street, failing to get a single passerby to complete his survey — perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is making a market researcher sympathetic. Anyway, he’s quietly observed by a woman, played by Lena Headey (yup, Mrs. Leonidas and the new Sarah Connor [and now Cersei Lannister, of course]), who’s dressing the window of a clothing/department store on the street. She notices his failed attempts, which amuse her; he notices her laughing, and begins to muck around to entertain her.

It’s a simple premise, but one that’s executed with comedic flair and a surprising amount of emotion. The music and lack of dialogue evoke an old-ish French mime comedy, making a nice contrast with the modern-day London setting, but it’s the relationship that silently develops between the two characters that provides the heart around the humour. And the ending, as carefully constructed as any moment of humour in the short, is painfully heartbreaking.

However many times you might want to re-watch this — and I think you would want to — you’ll always wish for the same outcome, and always be let down. It’s a sweet kind of pain and longing that, in spite of that French style, is very British.

4 out of 5

This short is available on the Cinema16: British Short Films DVD, and online free at Total Short Films or YouTube.

Annie Hall (1977)

2007 #115
Woody Allen | 90 mins | DVD | 15 / PG

Annie HallWidely considered to be Woody Allen’s breakthrough movie and winner of four of the ‘Big Five’ Oscars. One might call it a romantic comedy, but it’s very much an indie comedy-drama (for one thing, it utilises the ever-popular tactic of not taking place in chronological order), rather than the mainstream cliché-fest that first springs to mind whenever “rom-com” is mentioned.

Annie Hall is either the basis for or just exemplifies all the clichés of Allen films (essentially, neurotic Jew who struggles with life), but that doesn’t make it bad. It’s very funny in places, suitably realistic in others, and has a nice line in comedic philosophy too.

4 out of 5